Normally, George Elder’s Brahman calves are worth $500 at birth.
And during some 30 years he has lost only one calf at birth.
This year, however, three calves have died shortly after birth and another three have been born almost too weak to nurse.
Preliminary autopsy reports from a state lab indicate a combination of disease and chemical imbalance, and Elder – who lives about two miles west of a phosphate mining operation – thinks there is a connection with the deaths of his calves and International Minerals and Chemical Corp.’s plants.
Phosphate company officials said they are working with Elder to find out why his calves are dying. But they say it is too soon to speculate about any possible connection to the emissions from their mining operation, which includes sulfuric and phosphoric acid plants.
Elder, who sent one ill calf to the state Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in Kissimmee, had additional samples taken during an autopsy of another calf. Blood samples also were taken from the mother of one dead calf, for testing to see if there is a threatening buildup of fluorides or acids.
Dr. Harvey Rubin, who works at the state diagnostic laboratory, confirmed the lab did a series of tests on Elder’s calf. While he said a disease detected in the calf would have been enough to kill it, Rubin did not rule out phosphate-related poisoning as a potential, or contributing, cause of death.
“Really, we can’t make any interpretations on this (one test),” said Rubin. Before anything conclusive is determined, he explained, additional tests on the rest of Elder’s herd need to be done.
The calf tested in Kissimmee, Rubin said, had evidence of pneumonia and hepatitis, as well as an above normal phosphorus level in the blood. A normal amount, noted the preliminary lab report from Kissimmee, is five. Elder’s calf had a reading of eight.
Phosporus in normal amounts is essential for cows, according to a veterinarian at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine. But determining just exactly what is a lethal amount is difficult, especially since chemical imbalances can be brought on by other factors such as dehydration, the vet said.
A final lab report from Kissimmee is due within several weeks.
The weakened calves that lived appear to have swollen joints and difficulty moving.
He has been feeding the weak calves from a bottle – literally pouring milk from their mothers’ into their stomachs – in a desperate attempt to strengthen them.
“We’ve never had this problem before,” sighed Elder. “Something is wrong.”
He said he hasn’t changed his herd’s feed, used any new fertilizers or done anything differently this year. But for the first time, calves have been dying.
Last fall Elder also said he sold six cows because they had bad and missing teeth and could not eat properly.
Flouride poisoning is known to make cows’ bones weak and causes their teeth to fall out, according to a Plant City veterinarian who has treated cows for such illness.
IMC was granted a state permit to up its production and emit more fluoride gas into the air last June.
“It seems like too much of a coincidence that my cows die after IMC gets to put more stuff in the air,” Elder said.
(NOTE from FAN: We are currently missing the rest of this article; the part which appeared on page 2EH of the Tampa Tribune on February 10, 1986.)